The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has had its ups and downs.
The first installment, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was a smash success in 2003. The film took everyone by surprise thanks to its swashbuckling action, sharp wit and Johnny Depp’s unforgettable performance as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were filmed simultaneously, with the former hitting screens in 2006 and the latter arriving a year later. Both films made big money, but reviews were mixed: Chest was generally well received, but End was criticized for its overstuffed and occasionally nonsensical plot. In 2011, the series returned with On Stranger Tides. It too was a box office success, but it was panned by critics, with a series-low 32% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
The upcoming Dead Men Tell No Tales could very well put the franchise back on track. Here are 15 reasons we think the new Pirates film will surpass your expectations.
15. Javier Bardem
The Pirates series has always boasted strong villains. Black Pearl’s Barbossa remains the high-water mark, but Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) was also a memorable adversary, as was Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
Tales may have them all trumped, however, with Javier Bardem as the undead Captain Salazar. Bardem excels at playing truly frightening villains, like the remorseless hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and the cunning, tortured Silva in Skyfall. If Salazar is even half as memorable as those characters, Tales will be in good shape.
The best villains have a legitimate gripe with the hero, and Salazar certainly qualifies. In life he was a pirate hunter who was caught in a death trap by a youthful Sparrow, and he blames Jack for his dark fate. His seething hatred for all pirates (but especially Sparrow) is well on display in the film’s trailers.
14. Undead Pirates
Bardem’s performance is no doubt enhanced by the makeup and special effects work. Salazar and his men seem to be caught in a sort of shifting state of decay, somewhere in between ‘ghost’ and ‘zombie’. It’s pretty unnerving in the brief glimpses afforded by the trailer, so it’s sure to be truly haunting in the film itself.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the new film features undead/ghostly pirates. Dead Men Tell No Tales clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the first (and best) Pirates film, which featured the cursed crew of the Black Pearl. It may be derivative, but who cares? It’s a great concept and a really cool visual.
13. Geoffrey Rush
As Hector Barbossa, the cursed, ghostly villain of the first Pirates movie, Geoffrey Rush almost stole the show from Johnny Depp. Sure he was evil and immoral, but Rush brought such charm to the role that you had to like him. The guy just wanted to taste an apple again!
Resurrected by the sorceress Tia Dalma, Barbossa returned at the end of Dead Man’s Chest and had a crucial role in At World’s End, actually teaming up with our heroes to save Jack Sparrow from the abyss of Davy Jones’ Locker. The “frenemy” relationship that blossomed between the two former rivals was easily the highlight of that movie, and was fun to watch again in On Stranger Tides.
Barbossa is back in Tales, working (under duress, it seems) for Salazar to track down Sparrow. Whether Barbossa returns to his more villainous origins or remains an uneasy ally of Jack’s, you know Geoffrey Rush’s performance will be a standout.
12. New Directors, New Vision
Gore Verbinski helmed the first three Pirates films, while Rob Marshall took the reins for the fourth. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney could have hired another seasoned veteran of the Hollywood scene to direct Tales, but instead they chose a lesser known pair of filmmakers: Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
The pair (Roenberg, as they call themselves) had never directed a big Hollywood production before, instead making their mark with smaller films in their homeland (Max Manus: Man of War) and co-productions (Bandidas).
Their most recent film, 2012’s Kon-Tiki, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was based on the life of adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. Centered around Thor’s voyage across the Pacific Ocean, it proved Roenberg had the chops for a Pirates adventure.
11. Visually Stunning
One thing you can’t say about the Pirates films is that they look cheap. These are blockbuster productions filmed in some of the most beautiful places on Earth and utilizing the most talented special effects designers in the film industry.
The first movie was filmed almost exclusively in the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, while the sequels utilized a number of locations in California and the Bahamas. On Stranger Tides filmed in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, while Tales was produced in Australia. Needless to say, there are no shortage of beautiful vistas, both real and digitally enhanced, in these films.
Tales is the first film in the franchise not to be shot by Polish cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. This time, Paul Cameron took up the camera duties, and judging from his work on stylish productions like Collateral and HBO’s Westworld, he was a wise choice.
10. Rock Star Cameo
When he was doing his research for the first film, Johnny Depp decided that pirates were the rock stars of their day: drinking, carousing and generally doing whatever they felt like doing. With that in mind, he famously based his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Fittingly, Richards eventually had a cameo in the series, appearing in At World’s End and On Stranger Tides as Jack’s father, the fearsome Captain Edward Teague.
There aren’t many rock stars out there who could be considered more iconic than Keith Richards, but Tales seems to have found one. Last year, well after principal photography on the film had wrapped, it was announced that legendary former Beatle Paul McCartney had signed on to film a scene for the new movie. We still don’t know who he’s playing, but wouldn’t it be fitting if he was Jack’s long lost Uncle?
9. Swashbuckling Action
Any pirate movie worth its salt better have more than its share of swashbuckling action, and this franchise has always delivered in that regard.
The sword fights have always been impeccably choreographed, from the climactic duel between Jack and Barbossa in Black Pearl to the three-way battle between Jack, Will and Norrington in Dead Man’s Chest. The same can be said for the ship battles. The sea-based action never fails to impress, with cannonballs reducing large galleons to splinters and the mythical Kraken pulling ships down into the depths.
If the trailers are any indication, Tales will add more great action to the Pirates franchise, from the flashbacks of a human Salazar hunting down pirates, to his ghostly crew chasing down Jack and his allies.
8. Tighter Story
The Curse of the Black Pearl was a fairly simple story: ghost pirates try to break their curse, they kidnap a girl, boy runs off to rescue her. There were other reasons it was a hit of course (Jack Sparrow, lots of action, Jack Sparrow, really funny, Jack Sparrow…) but that simplicity certainly helped.
The first two sequels, on the other hand, ratcheted up the tension and the stakes with a plot of epic proportions. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End dealt with the potential end of piracy altogether, with the East India Trading Company seeking to use Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman to dominate the seas. There was a trip to Singapore, a vengeful goddess, a visit to the pirate afterlife, double and triple crosses… it got a little convoluted.
Tales seems to mark a return to the formula that worked so well the first time, by telling a smaller, more personal story: Henry Turner is searching for his long lost father, and Salazar wants revenge against Jack Sparrow.
7. Henry Turner
If Brenton Thwaites reminds you of the first film’s youthful and naive Will Turner, that’s the point: his character is Henry Turner, Will’s son with Elizabeth. At World’s End saw Will die and be reborn as captain of the Flying Dutchman, cursed to sail the ocean for eternity and ferry souls to the underworld. Henry surely grew up with tales of his heroic father, and as a young man he sets out to find him, running afoul of Salazar in the process while becoming unlikely allies with Jack Sparrow: just like his dad!
Making Will’s son the new lead is a smart move that functions as a soft reboot of the franchise. If Thwaites and Kaya Scodalerio (Carina) charm the audience the way Bloom and Knightley once did, it could mark a new beginning for the series.
6. Continuing the Turner Story
With Tales, the franchise returns to the story of the Turner family that was such a big part of the first three movies. With Will and Elizabeth’s son Henry now a young man, he sets out on a journey to find his mysterious and absent father, just as Will once did. In doing so, he winds up on the wrong side of a ghostly villain and working with a strange pirate named Jack Sparrow. This kid is really walking in his father’s footsteps!
With its focus on a young man (with the surname Turner) who is striking out and finding adventure, Tales could certainly be accused of simply retelling Black Pearl’s story. But would that be such a bad thing? The first Pirates film remains the best, and taking inspiration from it for the fifth installment can’t hurt.
5. Orlando Bloom
After stealing scenes as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Orlando Bloom went on to play Will Turner in the Pirates franchise. Starting out as a naive, principled blacksmith, Turner grew into a seasoned pirate, and ultimately became the new captain of the Flying Dutchman.
Turner was absent from On Stranger Tides, but there was too much dramatic potential in his tragic fate to ignore forever. What has life (or unlife, as it were) been like for him as an immortal pirate who can step on land just once every ten years? Has he retained his noble ideals, or has loneliness and isolation driven him to villainy, as it did Davy Jones?
Briefly glimpsed in the Tales trailer, Turner retains his human appearance, but is dotted with crustacean-like growths: in Pirates lore, that’s what happens to the Flying Dutchman’s captain and crew when they ignore their obligation to ferry the dead to the afterlife. Has Will Turner forsaken his duty, or is something else going on? Whatever the case, it’s good to see Bloom return to the franchise that made him a star.
4. Keira Knightley
Like Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley was also absent from On Stranger Tides. While Bloom’s Will Turner was out there on the seas doing his thing as an immortal pirate, Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann was on land raising their son. We know Will is back for Tales, and their son Henry is all grown up: but what about Elizabeth? Will we see her again?
Knightley’s potential return to the series was a closely guarded secret for a long time, but the Japanese trailer for the movie revealed that she will in fact make an appearance. The extent of that appearance isn’t clear, but it’s likely to be fairly small, or even just a cameo. Maybe she’ll appear for a family reunion at the end of the movie, if Henry returns home with his father in tow?
3. Carina Smyth
Elizabeth Swann was a great female lead in the first three films, and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey’s Syrena was fine in On Stranger Tides. But Tales is introducing a new heroine to the series, and she could be the best yet.
Kaya Scodalerio plays Carina Smyth, a budding astronomer who is on her own quest to find the trident of Poseidon, no doubt becoming an unlikely ally to (and thorn in the side of) Jack Sparrow along the way.
Carina may be a love interest for Henry in the same way Elizabeth was for Will, but that’s the only obvious similarity between the two characters. Elizabeth was the privileged daughter of the Governor, while Carina is a young woman fighting for her right to an education (and not taking no for an answer).
2. Jack Sparrow, Supporting Character
Johnny Depp is a great actor, and Jack Sparrow is one of his best roles. Black Pearl wouldn’t have been such a hit without him, nor would we be here in 2017 talking about the fifth installment in the franchise.
That said, Sparrow may be a character who is best in small, or perhaps medium sized doses. In the first film he played a supporting role to Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann. Their burgeoning relationship and Elizabeth’s plight drove the story forward, and Sparrow was essentially swept up in their wake, bringing his unique brand of chaos to their story.
In the sequels (especially On Stranger Tides) Jack himself became the lead character, which didn’t work quite as well. In Tales, he is once again a supporting character to the new leads of Henry Turner and Carina Smyth. Using the formula that worked so well the first time, Tales may prove that less Sparrow is actually better Sparrow.
1. Ending On A High Note
Dead Men Tell No Tales may be the last movie in the Pirates franchise. Or it may be the first of a new trilogy. Or a soft reboot of the whole thing. It’s hard to tell!
The trailers refer to the film as “the final adventure”, but that’s hardly a binding contract. If Tales is a box office smash, and audiences really take to the new leads, and people still can’t get enough of Jack Sparrow, then expect to see more Pirates movies!
That said, all indications are that the cast and crew approached Tales as though it was the final Pirates film, which probably bodes well for the final product. Actors like Depp and Bloom will want to finish the series in the best way possible, as will producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Are you looking forward to Dead Men Tell No Tales? Do you want to see more Pirates movies? Let us know in the comments.